tagGay MalePlease Wait for Me

Please Wait for Me

byDavidPatrick©

This is a love story, not a sex story. There is sex, but it comes later, after James and Luke fumble toward each other. As always, I like to hear from readers.

*****

Chapter One

For my thirtieth birthday, three of my best buddies from law school -- Andrew, Curt, and John Ralph ("Ralphie" to almost everyone who knew him and certainly to all of us) -- invited me to a golf-a-thon in Kohler, Wisconsin. We were to play 72 holes in less than 24 hours. They wanted to distract me.

They and others had been fretting over me ever since my wife, Jessica, had died, two years to the day before. She had awakened me the way every husband wants to be awakened (whether on his birthday or not) and, once she was finished, had gone running while I recovered, got ready, and headed to my law office. She had not returned by the time I left, which had not alarmed me. She often got lost in her runs or in the piano concertos to which she listened as she ran.

I left her a note on the chalkboard by our back door that we used for such things. "Wifey. CU2night. Rm39 at 7. XOXO, Hubby." We were meeting our best friends, Sam and Kyle, for a birthday dinner. Sam was short for Samantha, not Samuel.

When Jess had not answered any of my calls or texts by lunch, I was alarmed. We were not one of those couples in constant contact with each other, but we did by rule respond to the other.

I called Claire, her "work bestie." Claire panicked. She had assumed Jess was playing hooky with me for my birthday, as she had not called in or shown up for work. Claire's anxiety made me even more alarmed. Jess was one of the most responsible and thoughtful people I had ever met. She would not have skipped work without at least calling in. Something had to be wrong.

I called the police. After some hemming and hawing about how she had not been missing long enough to be missing, they took her name and description and typical running route and said they would search for her. I beelined home, hoping it was all a giant ruse to surprise me for my birthday. Jess was not there. My message had not been erased. My mind raced to dark places. I drove the route I expected she had run and that the police had already driven. There was no sign of her anywhere.

I feared she had been abducted.

She had not.

After sniffing some of her things, a police dog found her scent and then her body. She had been running on the shoulder of a two-laned road and had been hit so hard by a passing car that she had been knocked into the overgrown ditch that ran alongside it, in which she was invisible from the road. The driver had not stopped and was never found. Inexplicably, the driver had not called 911 or done anything else that may have saved my wife's life. A faceless, nameless person had killed my twenty-eight year old wife, negligently and unaccountably.

*****

I had been a Biology/Science History double major at Denison when I met Jess, an ebullient blonde from nearby Newark. We were Sophomores, and we met at a tie party. The men took a tie to the party and placed it in a box upon arrival. The box was sealed, and each woman reached through an arm-sized hole to grab a single tie. Once they had pulled a tie, they were to spend the party getting to know the man whose tie they grabbed.

Jess had not grabbed my tie. Instead, she had conspired with my roommate to know which tie was mine, and she then broke the rules and swapped with the girl who had grabbed it. At our rehearsal dinner, she explained the desperate steps she had taken. She said she had long had her sights set on me and had been openly flirting with me since we met as Freshmen in Chemistry, although she "must have been really bad at it, as Jimmy did not seem to notice. At all."

I had noticed. I was just too deep into my internal, silent struggle with my sexuality to know which way to turn. Although I had been sexually active with girls from our eighth grade graduation party on, I had been fantasizing about guys since long before that party. My first crush had been on Miles O'Keefe, the star of an old Tarzan movie I had stumbled across on a rainy Saturday when I was in junior high. When I ignored the lies about impending blindness or hairy palms, I imagined his floppy hair, long muscles, the hairy armpits, and loin cloth.

As I matured, it's not that I was not attracted to women. It's that I was slightly more attracted to men. On the Kinsey scale, I was somewhere between a 3 and a 4, but trending toward the 4.

I ignored the trend, told no one, and worked my way through girl after girl. I was the youngest of four boys, and my father and brothers were rock-solid Catholics and rock-ribbed Republicans. They were also virulently anti-gay. They mocked even the hint of femininity in a male. Men were not to do "woman's work." Men were not to cry. Men were not to embrace. Men were to stand tall and remain stoic. Compassion, emotion, empathy, and the like were for my mother and my aunts, and it was a betrayal to need or want them. They had to be given, not solicited. I could not risk the rupture with them that would follow any acknowledgment I was attracted to men, much less that I felt a stronger attraction toward them than I felt toward women. I stood tall and remained stoic.

Jess was a Denison dynamo, here, there, and everywhere. Everyone knew her, or at least knew of her. Many chased her. No one caught her. Everyone wondered who would.

No one outside of my dorm and my major really knew or knew of me. Roiling from the turmoil inside of me, I tended to keep to myself. I studied in my room. I worked out on off hours when the rec center was mostly empty. I spent hours alone in Denison's BioPreserve, tracing the migratory habits of salamanders. I went to every guest speaker who visited campus, usually by myself. While others were drinking and drugging, I was absorbing and learning. I had earned an Honors scholarship, and I was not going to dishonor it.

Jess was like no woman I had ever met. She smiled constantly, even when she was angry. She loved everyone and everything. She was relentlessly positive. She had boundless energy.

I do not know why she was so patient with me, but she was mine from the moment she tied the tie for which she had bargained around my neck. And I was hers. It was easier than the alternative I could have accepted, but did not. If I could date and be with women, then that was what I was going to do, even if it was a betrayal of sorts. I could easily sacrifice a little bit of myself if it meant not sacrificing my family, my standing, or anything else.

Besides that, she stole my heart. She was relentless, dragging me kicking and screaming out of myself and into the light. Just the sight of her made me smile. She convinced me to play "Stare Into Your Eyes," one of a number of games she either discovered or invented. In that one, we'd press our foreheads together and lock eyes for as long as we could. At first, I had to look away after only a few seconds. By the time she died, we played daily for as long as she wanted. It was revelatory.

She unearthed a playful side of me. I was guarded with everyone but her. When it was just the two of us, I could play the fool. I'd walk around the house with my penis out of my boxers, claiming it "wanted to look around" or "needed some air." I'd sing in the shower, usually some kind of bastardized version of a popular song. When Adele's "Someone Like You" hit, I changed the lyrics to "Someone Like Pooh" and insisted she had written the song for Christopher and as a cryptic anthem in favor of the man/beast love Christopher felt for Winnie. She'd shrug at me, smile, and mumble "there's something wrong with that man."

I made up songs. I created a long chant that I referred to as "a rousing rendition of peeeee-nis, vagiiiii-na." I'd see-saw the words back and forth, my head exaggeratedly left on "peeee-nis" and exaggeratedly right on "vagiiiii-na."

I changed the words to Hymns. "I will raise you up, on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of life" became "I will beat your ass, with my bare hand, make it so you cannot stand."

I'd sit at her grand piano, randomly hitting keys and pretending to be a prodigy. When she played--which was often and well--I'd sing random words that made no sense to anyone but me.

While others found my obsessiveness irritating, Jess embraced it. She thought it was cute that I separated my M&Ms into colors and then ate them in threes, abandoning the last two blues or the last orange because there were not three and I could not eat only one or two and would not mix them with another color. She indulged me by purchasing divided plates so my food did not touch and was patient as I ate each food group separately, of course eating peas and corn and whatever else three at a time. She was patient as we waited in restaurants because I had to sit at the same table and in the same place as we had every other time we had been to one of the few restaurants I would agree to visit. She did not mind the time I spent straightening screws in outlets and switches, squaring paintings and pictures, or writing with a ruler to ensure perfectly straight lines.

My closet was another story. She mocked the rigidity of it. I owned twelve dress shirts. They were all identical white Oxfords purchased on the same day. I owned twelve casual shirts, identical polos in black (3), red (3), and white (6), also all purchased on the same day. I owned twelve pairs of dress slacks, in black (3), in blue (3), in grey (3), and in tan (3), also all purchased on the same day and all the same but for color. The whole closet was that way, organized in threes and limited in color. I kept all for three years. On the three year anniversary, I donated them and replaced them with new clothes, as close to replicas as I could get.

Everything I owned was divisible by three. I had fifteen pairs of socks, all black. I had fifteen pairs of boxer briefs, also all block. I had three swimming suits (one black, one red, and one white), although I needed only one.

I owned three kinds of shoes (black loafers, black flip flops, and New Balance running shoes), but six pairs of each. I had eighteen shoe holes, six high and three across. The loafers were left, the flip flops middle, and the tennis shoes right. To keep each fresh, I wore them down the vertical, returning them toe out so I knew which pair of each to wear next. Jess referred to my closet as "the confirmation," which was short for "the confirmation of my husband's craziness."

I disagreed. When I opened my closet door, the repetition and symmetry calmed me.

Jess's closet was another story. It was, to me, crazy. It was certainly the antithesis of mine. I couldn't even go in it. I had my rods notched so each article hung equidistantly from those to the left and to the right. Jess did not. She pushed more and more things into spaces too small to hold them, so everything was scrunched and wrinkled. What didn't fit was piled on the floor, mingled with things she had worn and hadn't made their way into the hamper.

We graduated in 2007. Pivoting from science, I headed to Harvard for law school. I had preferred Yale, but Jess was going to Northeastern for graduate work in Psychology, and she wanted us to be together in Boston. I offered to commute from Yale, but she rejected it. If you have to have a fallback, Harvard's not a bad one.

To our parents' dismay, we lived together in Boston. We joked that we were Ryan O'Neal and Ali McGraw in "Love Story," one of Jess's favorite movies. She took to calling me Oliver. I took to calling her Jenny. We were almost an island.

I graduated from law school in 2010, and we headed to Kansas City, Missouri. I was headed to an Eighth Circuit clerkship for a Judge who was one of the select few who "fed" clerks to the Supreme Court (she was a likely nominee herself, if and when the right President came along). Jess was headed to a children's facility to work with the autistic.

We married in Loose Park on a cloudless day in October, 2010. My judge officiated. We were twenty five years old, and we believed we had long, happy lives ahead of us.

When I didn't land one of the twenty-seven Supreme Court clerkships meted out annually, I joined a boutique litigation firm that specialized in class actions. I wanted to work on "bet the company" litigation. We both worked long hours, too long for the little time we ended up having together.

I greeted her death with aching disbelief. I had gotten used to having a lifeline to hold onto and to keep me afloat. I feared I'd drown without it.

I could not accept the randomness of it all. I could not grasp how a woman could head out on a run and never return home.

I felt a wound open inside me that I feared would never close. As time passed, it only widened.

It is a canard that time heals. Time allows you to get used to being wounded, but the wound never closes.

Our family and friends descended on Kansas City. For days, I was caught in a whirlwind, shuffled here and there, told when to eat, what to wear, and when to sleep.

I absorbed the affection and the tributes. I agreed with all of those who extolled Jess's virtues. I disagreed with those who extolled mine. The wound inside me gaped at the thought she had deserved more than I had given her, that I had somehow shortchanged her as a husband. I had been faithful and loving, but I knew in my core that I had not given to her what she had given to me, which was all of her. I knew I had held part of me back, ashamed and conflicted. The guilt of that knowledge haunted me after she died.

The trip to Kohler had been no different than every other encounter I had had since becoming a twenty-eight year old widower. My friends placed Jess on a pedestal, and they then placed me right next to her. She deserved the perch. I did not. As they talked, I had wanted to scream that my friends were ignorant, that I was probably gay, and that I had spent the two years since Jess died sleepwalking through my grief and my guilt because I could not forgive myself for letting her die in a lie, or at least a partial one.

I did not. Instead, I just smiled and shattered a little more, pieces of me falling off and left behind. Every time someone comforted me, I lost a little more of myself in the kindness and warmth of the words.

The days between her death and funeral flew by. Those that followed dragged. Everyone returned to their lives. With Jess gone, I didn't have a life to which I could return.

I was wallowing in my 730th day of self-pity at O'Hare's Gate E5 when I looked up and saw a young man waiting to board my flight. He was young, perhaps ridiculously young, and giddy. I soaked him up.

He was white.

He was about 5'8" tall. He was fit and trim.

He had his hat on backward. Beneath the hat, his hair was high and tight around the outside, which I immediately clocked as military. His brown bangs stuck out from under the plastic band that sized the hat to fit his head.

His visage was carefree and untroubled. He looked as if he did not know shame or sin.

His eyes were dark, slightly lower on the outside, and shielded by thick eyebrows.

His nose was a button.

He had a large mole on his left cheekbone and another under his mouth on the right.

His ears stuck out farther than his bangs, the right farther than the left. I suspected he thought they stuck out too far. I did not.

He looked like a young Jason Ralph, only with a chin dimple.

His Hollister t-shirt was black and untucked. It was also V-necked, and the V revealed portions of an inked verse across his chest.

His jeans were threadbare, but tight enough to reveal what I had never had.

His shoes were black and red high tops that were untied and disproprtionately large.

He was grinning ear to ear. The grin produced deep dimples that matched his chin dimple. It also suggested he was either on something or simple. That he kept shifting foot to foot, all but his thumbs in his pockets, suggested drugs, not simplicity.

Still, I could not look away. For some reason, I was transfixed. The boy looked like joy personified, his grin so wide it threatened to crack his untroubled face.

His eyes shone as he grinned and grinned. I felt predatory, but I could not look away from him. I suspected I had never been as happy as he looked in that moment, waiting to board the day's last flight from Chicago to the City of Fountains.

I was compelled to move toward him. I stood up, slung my bag over my shoulder, and took a circuitous route to avoid being noticed. I did not plan on speaking to him, as boldness was not in my nature. I always hung back.

I stopped right behind him. I stared at the back of his neck, which was creamy white and flawless but for two perfectly round moles almost equidistant between his spine and his right ear. I had to fight the nearly overwhelming urge to reach out and touch them to see if they were real, to run my forefinger through the fine blonde swirl in the middle of his neck, or along the ridge of his prominent ears. I had never touched another man with even the hint of affection, but I desperately wanted to touch him.

I lingered as they called the boarding groups, ignoring that they had called my Group Two. I would not -- I could not -- move until he did.

As everyone crowded forward, so did I. By the time they called Group Four, I was just to his left. I glanced at the boarding pass he held out in front of himself and easily found his name: Rydell, Luke.

When it was time to move forward, I attempted to wait so I could follow him down the gangway and watch him move. My attempt failed. He deferred to me with a casual gesture and a soft but firm "After you, Sir."

We stalled in the gangway. I wanted to turn around and look at him directly, but there was no plausible reason for me to do so until he started talking to himself. "It's going to be hard to keep me still," he mumbled.

I turned toward him and raised my eyebrows, pretending he may have been talking to me. He remained giddy.

"Sorry, Sir," he said. "I didn't mean to bother you. I'm just excited is all. I haven't been home in almost a year."

The "Sirs" were wounding me. I was older than he, but not old enough to be a "Sir." I was only thirty, and barely that.

"Have you been in prison?" I asked, trying to joke and crack the ice.

"Oh, no, Sir," he responded earnestly. "I've been trainin'. You see, Sir, I joined the Army when I finished school, and this is the first time I've been home since I joined."

"Well, thank you for serving," I answered, sincerely. "And, you can dispense with the Sirs. It makes me feel old."

"Sorry, Sir, but I'm trained to do it," he responded, again earnestly, and still grinning.

I wanted to know where he was sitting, but I thought it too forward -- and creepy -- to ask. So, I smiled at him, wished him well as a soldier, and forced myself to turn away from him. If I had continued to interact with him, I'd have put my hands on him. I would not have been able to stop myself.

I settled into my seat, put my noise-canceling earphones in, and opened my book. Luke was two rows ahead and on the opposite side of the aisle. I could see part of another tattoo under his left sleeve. I could also see that he remained anxious, the fingers on his left hand repeatedly drumming the arm of the chair he was in. I watched him most of the flight. I kept hoping he'd look back and smile at me, so I could smile back. Like a fool, I practiced the smile in case he did. I needn't have.

At baggage claim, I watched him remove a giant rucksack as I waited for my golf clubs. I then watched him remove another giant rucksack and then a third, smaller bag. As he tried in vain to pile them all on his back along with the backpack he had carried on, I moved toward him and offered to help.

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